Collaborative Pioneer: Inside Interview with Bernardo Hernández Bataller of the European Economic and Social Committee

Good morning Mr Hernández Bataller. Let me begin by thanking you for your time to this interview and introduce myself. My name is Marco Torregrossa and I am the administrator of the European Sharing Economy Coalition and one of the Global Curators of Collaborative Consumption. My colleague Albert Cañigueral of OuiShare is joining us via teleconference from Barcelona.

MT: You are the Rapporteur of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Opinion Paper on Collaborative and Participative Consumption. What are you most excited about this topic and what are your biggest fears for the present and future?

BHB: Collaborative Consumption can offer an additional instrument for regenerating the European single market, making it more balanced and sustainable.

I am mostly excited about the “solidarity” component behind Collaborative Consumption, the wider options and bargaining power it gives to consumers and generally, the new ways it creates to address economic recovery in Europe. What I fear the most is that these new forms of collaboration create grey areas in the legislation where consumers’ and workers’ rights can be jeopardised. Without proper regulation Collaborative Consumption could also end up in a “black market” situation that no one would benefit. We understand newcomers in this space struggle with a number of outdated regulatory frameworks that create uncertainty and may inhibit long-term investments and development of the sector. We need to remove any restrictions and disguised barriers to intra-Community trade and introduce new EU legislation to properly tackle Collaborative Consumption.

MT: What would be the one next step you could take today to move the collaborative economy agenda forward?

BHB: We absolutely need to bring consumer organisations and cooperatives on board this new phenomenon. For this to happen we have to spread more information at local and Member States level, not only via awareness raising campaigns but also targeted training offered to national and local consumer associations.

MT: What is the status of your Opinion Paper and what will happen next?

BHB: The Opinion Paper is currently being finalised after collecting stakeholder feedback from the public hearing of September 25th. On December 16th the Opinion Paper will be debated in the Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption of the EESC and later approved in the Plenary Session in January. The Paper will then be transmitted to the EU Commission (DG Health and Consumers), which will decide whether or not to take legislative or other non-legislative actions.

MT: How can Collaborative Consumption help to reach the EU 2020 objectives and be more effectively integrated in European innovation policies?

BHB: Our Opinion Paper is in line with and could provide an addition to the provisions of the EU 2020 Strategy. This document proposes that the consumption of goods and services should take place in accordance with smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and should also have an impact on job creation, productivity and economic, social and territorial cohesion. Collaborative Consumption can help to boost the responsible consumption component of the EU 2020 Strategy. Responsible consumption is included in the five fundamental rights of the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection and it is now high time for the EU to adopt a similar legislation if we are really serious to achieve the EU 2020 objectives.

MT: What policy interventions at EU or local level would be most efficient in accelerating the transition to Collaborative Consumption?

BHB: We have observed there are two different Collaborative Consumption sectors: 1. the non-profit sector mostly active in a vertical manner at the local level where the EU should not intervene and 2. the profit sector which is having a horizontal transnational nature. It is this second sector where the EU should correct or introduce legislation and this is particularly the case for electronic payment that support transactions in Collaborative Consumption and where the Commission is now revising the Payment Services Directive. However, depending on the specific angle economic/social/environmental and the scale EU/national/regional/local, we may stumble upon a very complex scenario for regulation. A correct implementation of the new EU Consumer Agenda could also help to mainstream more widely Collaborative Consumption.

MT: Collaborative Consumption allows people to become “casual” entrepreneurs or micro-entrepreneurs. Current regulatory systems tend not to address an activity that is neither an employee nor a full-time self-employed. What is the best way to include this reality into EU policies?

BHB: This is a complex question and there are many stakes involved, particularly from the Trade Unions perspective. Regulation for service providers are dealt at national level, the EU can only regulate service providers’ activities that take place between two or more Member States.

Anyway, first we should identify the legal barriers that prevent the smooth undertaking of these activities and then we should regulate accordingly, but only for the purpose to foster the development of these activities rather than controlling or limiting them.

MT: How to incentivise public investments (grants, subsidies) for collaborative consumption projects, like the setting up of a European network of sharing cities via the Covenant of Mayors or the EU Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities?

BHB: EU regulators are lacking data and statistics on Collaborative Consumption, above all with regard to the economic, environmental and social benefits of this new phenomenon. We will pledge the EU Commission to kick-start market research studies, collect samples from those sectors that have the greatest traction in Europe (e.g. mobility, housing, retail, education) and create the right metrics to measure Collaborative Consumption. There already exist several best practice examples on Collaborative Consumption and out of these we need to create benchmarks to raise the bar, above all in those Member States where Collaborative Consumption has yet to penetrate the market. We will make pressure for the EU Commission (DG Health and Consumer and DG Internal Market) to investigate what is available under the new multiannual financial framework to support research studies in this domain. As to a network of Sharing Cities, you should approach our colleagues from the Committee of the Regions that could be instrumental to achieve this.

MT: What is the strongest value proposition of collaborative consumption for (a) business and (b) consumers?

BHB: Collaborative consumption could prove resilient in the current economic and financial climate and could provide a response to the growing uncertainties caused by the economic crisis. It could also represent an opportunity to get back on track towards sustainable economic, social and human development in an environmentally-friendly way. The social component of Collaborative Consumption is already very strong, what we would need to emphasize better is the resource optimisation angle which is attractive to business. And for consumers, the convenience component and the improved well-being it can bring.

MT: How to scale up Collaborative Consumption from the young and urban and IT savvy to a viable alternative for everyone?

BHB: There is a strong focus of Collaborative Consumption to large cities and this makes sense because of higher congestion and over population pressure. However I believe the local and above all the neighbourhood level is key to help diffuse Collaborative Consumption more widely. It is from local projects that Collaborative Consumption should scale, but for this to happen we need to educate citizens and mobilise the most receptive local politicians, explaining the advantages of engaging into Collaborative Consumption transactions and how to avoid a situation whereby this new economic model leads to more consumption, waste and CO2 emissions.

MT: Mr Bataller, I can’t believe how fast this time went. Thank you for all the valuable information you gave us. I would also like to thank both Ms Dorota Zapatka the EESC administrator of the Collaborative and Participative Consumption dossier and my colleague Albert Cañigueral from OuiShare, without whom this interview could not have been possible.

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